Journey With Wilson Logistics - Springfield, MO

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Andrey's Comment
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Good luck to you, Eugene! We are almost in the same boat - I also started school on 12/28. Do you guys train on 10 speed?

Eugene K.'s Comment
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CONTINUED .... I overshot a couple of turns, and on one occasion, came to a complete stop before the intersection, but not at or before the stop sign. This would be considered an autofail, as well as hitting a curb. I did hit the curb once my very first loop around the complex, on a tricky cul-de-sac with a tight turning radius just at the end of the examination. It would be a real shame for anyone to nail the rest of their road test, only to fail looping the truck around on the last maneuver! I didn't ask how often, but I'm sure it's happened plenty of times before. I'll just make sure I'm not one of them. The examiners are heavily regulated by law on what they can and cannot disclose about the test, including their grading metrics for the backing maneuver in terms of how many pull-ups we get. But I was able to deduce that the exact route that we took through and around Springfield (including on the interstate) "may have" been the test route lol.

The best part of Wednesday was meeting my trainer. She's been with the company about a year and is in town for the weekend getting her truck repaired, and we should hopefully be able to go out on the road by Monday. I'm her first trainee and she's at least as excited as I am. We both have very similar personalities--outgoing, talkative, loud, constantly cracking jokes, positive attitude--so we'll be a great fit. Even though this week is short because of the holiday tomorrow (Friday, New Year's Day), we students have an advantage because so many drivers are stuck in town for the weekend with us. Turns out that all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we'll have the opportunity to head to the yard with the drivers and practice anything we want with them--backing, pre-trip, or taking the trucks out. It's a huge relief to know we'll have that extra experience.

At 1600, we take the shuttle back to the hotel for the evening. I walk to the Super Wal-mart a block away for groceries and various items I needed (especially a small backpack to carry my study materials and change of clothes/toiletries for showers at truck stops), head back to my hotel room, call my family and a few friends, study for a bit, then crash early.

Day 4 Thursday 31 Dec 2020

0645 - Shuttle picks us up and we had to the Wilson campus. Our class is now down to three from the original five due to illness, and we head out to the backing pad to be quizzed on all sections of the pre-trip (engine compartment, door and fuel area, coupling, trailer, and lights). All three of us, minus a few small things we forgot, wound up with a passing score for the pre-trip. Now all we need to do is just fine-tune and sharpen it to make sure it's on point for test day in a few weeks.

We then begin learning our final backing maneuver, which is the 90 degree back. This one is similar to the straight back in that it has few steps and relies heavily on guiding the trailer. As a result, I find that I performed slightly better on this than the parallel, and significantly better than on the offset. Once my trailer is pointed in the general direction of where I need it to go, I tend not to have much difficulty making small adjustments to get it to finish exactly where I need it. For the 90, the final swing is just alternating between a straight back and a hard left, so minus a few kinks and with a lot of guidance from the trainers I was able to successfully complete a few passes.

The most reassuring part of the day was when one of the examiners decided to demonstrate a "passing 90 degree back" to all of the students to make a point. One of us was asked to count how many pull-ups, the other how many G.O.A.L.s (get out and look), another instructor was to blow the whistle any time the DOT bumper crossed a line, and I was to set a timer for fifteen minutes (how long we have to complete the maneuver). The examiner set up for the back and once the countdown began, immediately began acting as if he had no idea what he was doing. He intentionally crossed the line with his bumper four times, used six pull-ups, and took six minutes to complete the maneuver, but eventually passed. To us watching intently, those six minutes felt like an eternity. The point he was trying to make is this: it doesn't matter how many "mistakes" you make executing the back, so long as you FIX them! Until the examiner says "stop and get out of the truck," you have not failed the maneuver. It does not matter how sloppy you are or how many times you pull up or how far you pull up (use the space available to you!!) so long as you land it in the box. That is ALL IT TAKES to pass and satisfy the requirement for your class A CDL. It's only a fail if your tire hits a line or a cone, or your DOT bumper does not finish in the 3-foot box at the back. You have a million opportunities to correct yourself before then. After lunch we went back out to the pad and I immediately began practicing the sight side parallel. The parallel has by far the most steps out of the all the maneuvers, but is easy as baking a cake so long as you follow them. I was thrown off initially by doing a few things backwards (turning the wrong way, looking for the landing gear out the wrong window, etc.), but once I corrected myself I was able to finish with a pass. I now feel almost as confident with my parallel as I do with my straight back.

At 1530 we went back to the office and were issued mesh Wilson Logistics trucker hats to celebrate "graduation" from Phase 1 of training!!!

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Interstate:

Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Eugene K.'s Comment
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PS: Just want to add a clarifying point about the examiner's intent with the "passing 90 degree back" demonstration. The intent, of course, is not to imply that you can be a horrible backer with no idea what you're doing and somehow survive in trucking. The intent, rather, is to demonstrate the crucial importance of taking EVERY possible opportunity "out in the real world" to correct yourself, no matter what. When you're unloading at a customer at 3 in the morning in pouring rain and can't see a thing, there's no such thing as pulling up too many times, or G.O.A.L.ing too many times, or correcting yourself too many times. There's no room for super truckers who think they can nail everything perfectly on the first attempt.

Eugene K.'s Comment
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Hey Andrey, great to hear from you! I've been reading your story as well.

We are learning on automatics here in Springfield. I first learned to drive a 4-wheeler on a manual, so it was interesting to feel how the truck kicks like a manual while reversing in low gear. Took some adjustment to smooth it out.

Eugene K.'s Comment
member avatar

Update: Backing, backing, and more backing!

Day 5: Friday 1 Jan 2021

Happy New Year's everyone!

1030 - Due to the holiday, today was officially a non-working day and the training center was closed. However, far be it from us to waste a perfectly good training day. Three driver trainers who were in Springfield for the weekend for various reasons (two 34-hour resets, my trainer awaiting repairs) bobtailed myself and three other trainees over to the training pad, as they were issued the keys to two training trucks. The atmosphere was a bit more relaxed on the pad since no instructors or examiners were present, but we still learned a lot. I started off by executing two blind-side parallels almost perfectly. I've now decided this is my favorite maneuver by far and I sincerely hope I draw this on test day. (Your backing maneuvers that you must complete are a straight back, an offset, and then you draw either a blind side parallel, a sight side parallel, or a 90 degree.) The truth about parallels is that they really are simply a matter of following directions. If you follow them to the T every single time, it's really not possible to screw up.

When my turn came for the 90 degree, I set up, found my landing gear, straight backed it until my first G.O.A.L., and then the driver trainer told me to ignore the instructions and listen for his cues. As I started following his cues, my first instinct was to ask "what the hell is this guy doing? He has me drifting all over the pad!" Then after he successfully guided me in, he told me that he intentionally set me up for failure so that I could learn how to fix a mistake. At first he had me shoot wide, then undershoot, before I finally came in straight and landed in the box.

After several hours on the pad, the three instructors bobtailed us back to the motel early and called it a day. Technically, it was their day off, and they had to head to a wing joint to catch the Alabama game at 3:00. The fact that three drivers took four hours out of their day off to volunteer their time instructing four brand-new trainees, some of whom they had just met that morning for the first time, speaks volumes for the "pay-it-forward" company culture. With each passing day I only become more and more convinced I've made the right choice with this company, and even beyond that, more and more thankful that I've been given this opportunity.

Back at the motel, there's not much to report. One of the best offerings is its all-you-can-eat breakfast every morning. And no, I'm not talking pre-packaged blueberry muffins or some other type of "continental" breakfast. Every morning you can fill yourself up on unlimited coffee and as much of a full breakfast menu as you can stomach. Other than that, there's a small swimming pool and even a hot tub, which I wish I had known existed, because I didn't pack a bathing suit and the weather all week has been absolutely abysmal! When not actively training, I've spent the majority of the time in my room studying, sleeping, reading for pleasure, or catching up with friends and family over Zoom.

Day 6: Saturday 2 Jan 2021

0830: This morning, one of the examiners / senior instructors picked us up in the company shuttle van for an "official" training day to make up for the Friday holiday. One of the other students in our original class was picked up by his trainer yesterday morning to hit the road on a load, so his two weeks of over-the-road D-seat training have officially begun. That just leaves myself and one other gentleman from our original class of five. In total, it was the two of us, plus one other student from several classes before us who had just finished her two weeks over the road. She tests on Monday and had been struggling with her backing a bit, but in the last three days has made significant progress out on the pad. She will definitely be ready, not least because the trainers and examiners continually invest so much in our success out on the pad.

The reality is that, for our two weeks over the road as D-seat trainees, we will have little to no opportunity to practice any offset backs or parallel backs, or even 90 degree backs. (We will have significant opportunity to practice straight line backs at truck stops, and the majority of our load deliveries will be 45 degree backs, but if you can execute a 45 degree back, you can do a 90. Just double the angle!) As such, the onus lies on us to HAVE THE STEPS MEMORIZED for the offset and parallels. If we have each step firmly imprinted on our brains from studying every day, then there's nothing to worry about if we are a little rusty when we get back. We will have anywhere from 1-3 days to sharpen these skills on the pad before we test. But if we haven't put forth the effort to have the steps memorized, we will have lost everything we learned, and nothing can be done to help us.

I started off by performing six 90s in a row. Interestingly, my first 4 were my best, and my last 2 were my worst. I understand the intuitive principles of trailer movement; what I need to practice most of all is sighting my angles. Once you're set up properly, the 90 is nothing more than straight backing and hard left. I just need to know WHEN to switch from one to the other. The best revelation of the day for me? The dreaded offset back, which I struggled so much with earlier in the week, was now perfect every time? The reason? All of the practice from SETTING UP in the box after my 90s! Imagine that lol.

Bobtail:

"Bobtailing" means you are driving a tractor without a trailer attached.

Over The Road:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Old School's Comment
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The reality is that, for our two weeks over the road as D-seat trainees, we will have little to no opportunity to practice any offset backs or parallel backs, or even 90 degree backs. (We will have significant opportunity to practice straight line backs at truck stops

You will seldom find straight line backs at truck stops. There are some, but usually those spots will already be taken. Most backing at truck stops are 90° angles. You will also encounter blind side 45° angles at some truck stops.

It's a lot more challenging in the real world. You can crush a cone in the yard with no repercussion. It's a little different trying to squeeze in between two shiny big rigs.

In the real world your setup is far more important than anything else. It will all come to you, but it's very different once you leave the comfort, open space, and familiarity of the pad.

Over The Road:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Eugene K.'s Comment
member avatar

Thanks, Old School! It's funny you mention the cone crushing, because on Day 2 of backing I managed to take out the same cone three different ways, three different times in a row. My instructor soon asked me, "Eugene, just what did that cone do to you?" and I earned the genial moniker of "conekiller" for the rest of the day. I love how we can approach a subject that is deadly serious with a sense of humor when appropriate. And on that note, I tend to be a bit of a jokester who never shuts off, so I'm glad they made the effort to pair me with someone who has a similar personality. Otherwise I imagine I'd grow quite tiresome on the road very quickly :)

Just a quick update for the rest of yesterday (Saturday 2 Jan 2020), in the afternoon after completing my 90s and offsets successfully. I switched over to the other truck and executed a few sight-side parallels, all of them extremely poorly, when I had nailed several of them just the day before almost perfectly with no pull-ups. My biggest error wasn't that I hadn't learned the steps or wasn't following them properly, but much like earlier with the 90s, I wasn't sighting properly. When I thought I had successfully hit the center of my landing gear, it turned out I was almost an entire foot off. Similarly, at the very end, just as I thought my mudflap made contact with the line, it turned out I was also way short, which put my tractor out the front of the box when straightening out. I managed to straighten out with a pass, but I have to emphasize the importance of laser-focused accuracy. It's not enough simply to know the steps, follow them in order, and know when to switch from one to the next. A miscalculation of only a few inches, or an incorrect angle, can result in a dramatic overshot or undershot by several feet at the back of the trailer--within seconds. Precisely for this reason, and the high likelihood that we as newbs will make these errors even on test day, the instructors place a heavy emphasis not only on accurately teaching the maneuvers themselves, but on teaching us HOW TO FIX IT if and when we mess up. We have fifteen minutes to complete each maneuver on test day, which is an eternity. There is ALMOST no mistake that cannot be fixed by pulling up and resetting. That said, I'll state the obvious ...... try not to make the mistake in the first place lol.

(For what it's worth, it did begin heavily snowing right as I switched to this maneuver and I definitely had difficulty seeing, but I know better than to blame it on the snow! That's not going to fly on test day, and certainly not in the real world.)

Another personal takeaway on the parallels? No G.O.A.L. (get out and look) is more important than the first one, where we split the trailer tire with the front cone. If this isn't done in precisely the right place, the entire rest of the maneuver will be screwed up.

A philosophical observation: like many endeavors in life, progress in my first week of trucking was not linear. Maneuvers that came to me quite easily at first seemed to grow more difficult as the week progressed, and maneuvers that I struggled with initially suddenly became quite easy seemingly overnight and without reason. Much like with a weight loss or fitness goal, or any other personal or professional goal in life, one should never expect a straight line of progress, especially when the learning curve is steep. It's always jagged, and sometimes two steps forward and one step back. What matters is consistency of habits, and putting forth the effort day in and day out, without allowing frustration or perfectionism to overcome me in the heat of the moment. There's absolutely no room for that on the road, because indulging in it for even a second could mean the difference between life and death.

"Acceptance" means knowing that I'm in complete control of my behavior, attitude, and reaction to circumstances around me, but OUTCOMES may not always end up the way I hope, and aren't always under my control. I don't mean this in a Newtonian physics sense, of course, when it comes to the mechanics of my day-to-day responsibilities. If my setup is jacked up and I'm in control of pointing the trailer the wrong direction, obviously I'm in control of the outcome of backing into someone else's shiny new rig. If I'm in control of deciding to shut down when a blizzard is forecast, I'm in control of the outcome if I wind up getting towed out of a ditch. The list here could go on and on--I have HUGE responsibility when it comes to taking ownership of every single action as a professional truck driver.

Rather, this is a general imperative, and a reminder to breathe. :)

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Eugene K.'s Comment
member avatar

Sunday 3 Jan 2020

Aaaaand it's official! Off we go tomorrow on our first load. I'm meeting my trainer at 0700 down in the lobby and we're heading over to the shop while they work on her Qualcomm. She should have a load assigned by 1000 or 1100, and then we're heading over to Prime so I can pick up my Comdata card. I've been dying to check out Prime for months now, ever since I first read Turtle's training diary (the very first one I read from beginning to end). After that, we're making a quick stop at Walmart to pick up some last minute supplies and hitting the road!

Who knows what state we will be in 14 hours later? The excitement and anticipation has me giddy, but I better enjoy my last night sleeping in a comfortable king sized hotel bed, with a bathroom only a few feet away. I'm sure I'll be missing this luxury VERY soon!

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.
Eugene K.'s Comment
member avatar

1807 Tue 5 Jan 2021 - Love’s outside Indianapolis.

Quick update for Monday and Tuesday if week 2!

Monday - my trainer picks me up at 0700 and I put all of my belongings in her truck, then unpack and settle myself in. We head over to the shop to pick up her fixed Qualcomm and a mattress for my top bunk, then head over to Walmart for some last minute supplies. We still haven’t been assigned a load yet, so we head over to the training pad to assist and observe those practicing for their CDL tests this week. I would have loved for the chance to hop in and get a few practice backs in myself, but there were five students testing anywhere from Monday to Wednesday who needed to get some last minute practice in. Some were looking pretty good and a few pretty rusty. It was made abundantly clear to us that for those backing maneuvers we won’t have much (or any) chance to practice over the road for two weeks, it’s imperative to have every single step memorized. If we don’t, and unlearn everything we were taught before we left, there’s not enough time for any last minute polishing that will ensure a pass. The responsibility is on us to study!

Just after lunch, we find out that we got our first load as a training team — we’re headed to Maine!! Our drop is scheduled any time before midnight on Thursday, so there’s plenty of time. Since we’re picking up our trailer from Prime at 0600 on Tuesday, we’re going to bobtail over to their lot, tour the millennium building (the massive driver lounge complex at prime hq — basically a small city with fitness facilities, movie theater, cafeteria, chiropractor, cpa, and more) and get my comdata card, then crash early before hitting the road tomorrow.

I make sure to squeeze in a workout because it’s been over a week since a “real” one. ( I can’t deadlift any heavier than 315 since I use up all of their bumper plates, but I managed 😂 ) Then I grab some dinner from their cafeteria (seasoned tuna steak and veggies — more than I could finish — for under $10!), check in with some friends on zoom, and call it a night.

Tuesday - My trainer’s alarm goes off at 0430, and I’m shocked that I managed to sleep on the top bunk of the berth as well as I did. I’m a notoriously light sleeper, and if you’ve read any of my other posts in the general section, I’ve mentioned my chronic insomnia and how anxious I get around sleep in general. Miraculously, my trainer is also a light sleeper, who swears she isn’t bothered at all no matter how many times I need to go up and down the ladder (which is reassuring, because I woke up to pee four times — actually low for me, even after cutting off all water consumption four times before bedtime). I used my mindfulness practice to cover my breaths with attention, and sleep eventually came to me for more easily than I expected. This will without question be the biggest adjustment to life on the road.

We wake up to find the showers had flooded overnight at prime, so we head to a nearby loves to shower and grab breakfast. Then back to hook up to the trailer, finish our pre trip, and roll! My trainer drove for the first hour outside of Springfield, then we switched out and I took over.

A few observations from my first day of “real” driving with a “real” load:

- the steering wheel is extremely sensitive. After about ten minutes, I got used to the free play and managed to get the hang of following the curves and rolling hills. I-44 in Southern Missouri is fairly hilly and curvy, but the weather was clear and within thirty minutes or so I’d found my comfort zone. I became quite friendly with the Jake brakes (engine retarder which uses the RPM to slow the vehicle, for any civilians reading along), as my trainer is a huge fan of using them whenever possible, and thoroughly enjoyed myself snaking up and down through the hills. We hit some heavy traffic and a construction zone circumnavigating St. Louis, but once we crossed into Illinois and Indiana it was about as flat and uneventful as can be.

- Going over the scales was significantly less exciting than I thought it would be. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure why I thought it would be exciting to begin with 😂

- In my mesh trucker hat, rayban wayfarers, skinny jeans, and down vest, I look less like a truck driver than a smug hipster from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, circa 2008. Will the subterfuge last? Stay tuned ....

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Bobtail:

"Bobtailing" means you are driving a tractor without a trailer attached.

Over The Road:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

PackRat's Comment
member avatar

Good update until the last few lines.

Skinny Jean's? That's an Auto Fail! Get to a Walmart or Tractor Supply and get some Wranglers, ASAP.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

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